I’m sure that most people are aware of the cultural maelstrom that is currently swirling due to the plans to erect a mosque/community center a few blocks away from Ground Zero in New York City. Aside from the fact that it’s still somewhat unclear what the building will actually be (depending on who you read, it could either be a mosque or a community center,) many are claiming that erecting a building devoted to the faith of Islam is an affront to the memories of all of those who died that tragic day in 2001.
I am here to say that no, it is not, and saying that it is exposes the fundamental issues that Americans just can’t bring themselves to face about their religious tolerance (or lack thereof.)
The proposition that it is somehow disrespectful to the victims of 9/11 implies that Islam itself, as a faith and as entire community of believers, is responsible for the attack and its terrible aftermath. This is, to put it mildly, a gross overstatement. Yes, the hijackers were Muslim, but does their crime paint all Muslims with the same brush? In that case, we must brand every abortion clinic bomber as a Christian, and summarily say that Christianity is a religion built on hate and distrust and that no churches should be built alongside such bombing sites, regardless of whether or not that particular denomination supported such an attack. Or we can say that American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are “Christian soldiers,” and that we should therefore say that Christianity is responsible. I know those propositions sound ridiculous, but so does the idea that Islam as a whole was somehow responsible for 9/11. Such a gross exaggeration leads to people mistrusting and hating Muslims and Islam, when instead we as Americans should be warm and accepting of people of all faiths. After all, isn’t that what part of being American is all about?
Even more importantly, this whole debate just goes to show how religious tolerance in the good ole United States of America is not what it once was. Most of us pay lip service to the idea of religious toleration, but how many of us truly see people of different faiths as equals? How many of us truly believe that people of other faiths should have the full right to practice that faith without threat of oppression? I dare say not that many.
To make matters worse, conservative gurus like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have weighed in on the issue, with the former saying that we should adopt the same type of religious intolerance practiced by the government of Saudi Arabia and some other Middle Eastern nations. Aside from being just plain childish and rather simplistic, such a statement flies in the face of what it means to live in America. We pride ourselves on our ability to accept people of all faiths, and yet there are so many among us, especially those on the Right, that like to use scare tactics to convince the masses that we’re engaged in a cultural war with Islam that threatens to destabilize American and turn us all into Muslims (if we’re defeated, that is.) Such an assumption is foolish and can only lead to oppression and inequality, two unfortunate aspects of society that should be resisted and prevented at all costs.
Fortunately, there are some voices of wisdom in this entire situation. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already come out in support of the building, and hopefully others will follow his example. If anyone bothered to research the organization responsible for the building, they would learn that they are committed to equality for all persons and to interfaith dialogue. How, I would ask, does that besmirch the memory of those who died on 9/11? If anything, it validates them, and shows just how great a country this can be, if everyone is willing to extendthe hand of friendship, rather than the fist of hate and bigotry.